The ark of the covenant was hidden behind a network of barricades. You couldn’t stroll into the temple and lay hands on the seat and symbol of God’s presence. There were sacrifices to be made, garments to be worn. After ritual cleansings, there were sacred coals, incense, showbread, a bloody altar. If you ran this gauntlet, if you leapt every hurdle, still you would not meet God. You’d come face-to-face with a thirty by sixty foot wall of fabric. As it wasn’t made of stone, perhaps the veil gave an illusion of flexibility, of softness. But make no mistake: it was there to keep you out. It was there to prevent your entering into the holy of holies and communing with the Most High God.
It is the season of Advent, two thousand and twenty. I have done the ritual cleansing and worn the special garments. I have followed the protocols; I’ve made sacrifices. But all my labor and preparation has only brought me to the veil. I have stumbled into the wall of my irremediable loneliness, and there is no way through. I don’t want to wait here in the semi-dark, in a cloud of incense, alone. Waiting requires resources—incredible resources—and I have none.
What I want is change. Relief. I want a dazzling, dramatic rescue.
What I get is a baby, playing on the floor beside me. He is dark-skinned and bright-eyed, and he has found a loose thread at the bottom of the heavy veil. He’s pulling it, and a little piece of the hem is unraveling.
I watch him, sighing. The veil is dense and high and broad. It would take a lifetime to unravel it. How long will I have to wait until the curtain parts and the light breaks through? How long until the air clears and the barricades finally fall?
Today, I light a candle in hope. I light it in honor of the baby and the thread and the life that will prove a continual tugging. I light it in honor of the fellowship that waits on the other side and the God who is eager to pick up the conversation where we left off: in the garden, in the cool of the day.
“O Clavis” by Malcolm Guite
Even in the darkness where I sit
And huddle in the midst of misery
I can remember freedom, but forget
That every lock must answer to a key,
That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate,
Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard,
Particular, exact and intimate,
The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.
I cry out for the key I threw away
That turned and over turned with certain touch
And with the lovely lifting of a latch
Opened my darkness to the light of day.
O come again, come quickly, set me free
Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.